Terry & Sheree Goodall

Terry & Sheree Goodall

With one month until the official start of summer down under and months of coronavirus restrictions finally easing, Aussies are eager to break out of the four walls COVID-19 has cleverly constructed. The October 2020 consumer sentiment report conducted by the Caravan Industry Association (CIA) of Australia reveals that while camping consumers are “cautiously optimistic about the future, they are understandably risk-averse.”

While demand for caravan and camping travel is strong, consumers not only deeply care about COVIDSafe measures taken to assure the safest environment, they want to be kept apprised of the actions businesses are taking to safeguard accommodations and amenities.

As we’ve seen in the U.S. and Europe, interest in city adventures, cruising, and international travel has dramatically decreased with “62% of respondents suggesting they were more likely to take a caravan and camping trip than before COVID-19 and 50% are more likely to now travel on a regional holiday,” according to the CIA report.

As restrictions are lifting, that’s exactly what Terry Goodall, managing director, and Sheree Goodall, marketing director, at PathFinder Outdoor Destinations, a boutique marketing agency serving holiday parks, accommodations, and tourism, expect to see. Coupled with the concerns and restrictions of travel during the pandemic and the ability for caravan and camping consumers to control their environment, it makes abundant sense that the Australian caravan/camping industry is on the precipice of something huge.

“A large part of the expected camping tsunami will be due to targeted advertising directed at the ‘non-consider’ market, those just becoming aware of or interested in this type of travel,” Sheree told WOODALLSCM.com (WCM).

Super-charged by COVID-19, Terry has seen this trend develop over the last 20 years. What used to be the exclusive purveyance of gray nomads, or as we call them in the U.S., snowbirds, the demographics of caravanners/campers in Australia now reaches all walks of life. Young couples, families with children, active vacationers, and yes, gray nomads are, or are interested in, hitting the roads in record numbers.

While the current interstate travel restrictions are having a slight impact on the industry, one of the largest marketing cooperative caravan organizations, Big4 Holiday Parks – in partnership with Australian Regional Tourism (ART) – is betting big on the future. So much so, they are embarking upon a co-op advertising campaign worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s designed to excite and encourage travelers to explore the country’s regions and extol the benefits of a caravan/camping trip.

This will be expressed by sponsoring on-demand television shows (think Netflix), through major social media campaigns, and with the help of national sponsorships from large corporations with a stake in the success of the industry. And expectations are high, potential sponsors are lining up to be involved in the campaign.

Belonging to Big4 or other membership-style collectives, including Discovery Holiday Parks, delivers a tremendous marketing outreach. However, the entire industry is poised to benefit from this promotion. To maximize the public’s new take on this type of holiday, parks must develop a detailed marketing plan, including more common tactics, social media, and lesser understood ones such as SEO (search engine optimization). Mirroring caravan/camping marketing on other continents, this is where independent parks need special consideration. These parks, in particular the small or mom and pop properties, shoulder the responsibility for their marketing programs.

“Large, successful parks are highly skilled at marketing. That’s one reason they are so successful. No one can do it better than they do for themselves. But it’s the smaller parks that we find need a bit of guidance to move the needle,” remarked Terry. This requires a constant presence on Facebook, posting relevant and eye-catching content, engaging with the audience, promptly replying to messages, and adding a personal touch. Not an easy online task.

“Effective SEO requires research into several pieces of information, including terms, regions, and competition, and the know-how to put it all together to achieve results. It’s relatively new to Australian park owners,” said Sheree.

When asked about a marketing budget, she noted that historically, parks spend 1% to 2% of their turnover on marketing where somewhere around 4% is what’s recommended. She adds that many of the more successful parks are spending up to 6% of their total turnover on their marketing program.

Addressing The Pandemic In The Room

Australia has taken COVID-19 very seriously. After 16 weeks, the country’s second-largest city, Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, was released from strict lockdown measures. Interstate travel is also beginning to slowly open up. The CIA sentiment report found that 79% of respondents indicated that they felt confident they could travel domestically in the coming months. When “asked about what measures they would require before they would consider staying in accommodations, respondents indicated that enhanced cleaning regimes (61%, free cancellation (58%), transferable bookings (52%), and management of communal areas (51%) were important considerations.”

Aussie Glamping

Glamping is becoming more popular in Australia. This photo shows a glamping tent at BIG4 Inverloch Holiday Park. It sleeps 6 and is a fully self-contained unit including a kitchenette, ensuite bathroom, heating and cooling, etc. AU$220/night/2 adults.

In Australia’s quest to control COVID-19 early on, businesses were (and still are) required to have an active, updated CovidSafe plan. Initially, parks were required to manually collect information about their guests. This burdensome paperwork resulted in an increased check-in time with park owners required to hold the paperwork for 28 days. Since then, the government has developed the COVIDSafe app, a voluntary download that is designed to assist with contact tracing if need be. And while it is voluntary, it’s required at check-in.

The app includes an encrypted QR code specific to the user, scanned at check-in, and used in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak. This is highly enforced and businesses not complying face stiff fines. Victoria’s neighboring state to the north, New South Wales, has published penalties for breaching Public Health Orders ranging up to AU$55,000, with a further AU$27,500 penalty possible for each day an offense continues. That’s no small change.

“Today’s understandably cautious public is interested in – even demands – details on how they will be protected from the virus. The required COVIDSafe plan allows guests to rest assured that attention has been paid to safety measures. For example, restrooms are cleaned every hour and cabins have been deep cleaned,” reports Terry. “A downside,” he continues, “is the effect of contactless check-in. The owner and staff personality – the approachable friendliness – is one of the things that sets the caravan industry apart from other hospitality lodging and is sorely missed. Park staff attempt to address this by socially-distanced, masked chats throughout the park.”

What The Future Brings

PathFinder Outdoor Destinations predicts a bright future for the caravan/camping sector of the travel industry. An incredible amount of money is being injected to attract and hold new consumers, again with an emphasis on the non-consider market. They are seeing more investment in new build locations and expect parks to become more sophisticated, rivaling Club Med-style resorts. They are also observing a battle between co-op/corporate caravan/camping organizations as more independent parks are being purchased. With this incredible growth, however, they also foresee stronger regulations governing parks and the industry.

Glamping is of increasing interest in Australia. Guests clamor to stay in the well-appointed canvas tents and think nothing of spending upwards of AU$200 per night. In season, the glamping facilities are at capacity. Off-season, not so much. It continues to be a growing segment in the caravan resort business.

Interestingly, a once-reliable booking solution, OTAs (online travel agents) such as TripAdvisor are suffering through the pandemic. Bookings are down somewhere in the neighborhood of 90% with most consumers going direct to the parks. Terry attributes that to a consumer’s desire for confidence, safety, security, and assurance.

A more immediate business concern for park owners and operators is the difficulty in obtaining insurance. With a record-breaking number of bush fires, floods, drought, and COVID-19, (not to mention in-demand, high-risk attractions, such as the popular flying fox a.k.a. zip lines), millions of Australian dollars in general and business interruption claims have been paid out. A possible solution being discussed is for large organizations, like Big4, to negotiate and offer industry insurance to their member parks. That remains to be seen.

A Bright Horizon Ahead

A perfect storm is brewing. Like everywhere in the world, Australians are tired of staying home, especially with the temptation of summer on their doorstep. Caravanning/camping is an ideal solution, allowing them to control their environment while still experiencing memory-making adventures. Those that are already familiar with caravanning can attest to its many benefits. Those new to the industry are thrilled to discover that everything from isolated outdoor environments to posh resorts is available to them, simply a road trip away.

And like we’ve reported observing in the U.S. and Europe, the influx and interest in what we all know to be a valuable way to recreate are, as one would imagine, “a license (for the caravan industry) to print money,”

The Goodall’s summed up the industry’s forward-facing messaging – especially to non-considers. It’s no surprise that “get out and explore your own backyard” is the new rallying cry in the land of Oz.